The O-Level Results are out at the national level, and we should know more about our local Bundibugyo results tomorrow when Kevin travels to pick them up. On Friday the Ministry of Education announced the completion of the grading, and gave summary results for the districts. Most schools near Kampala have rushed to collect the “pass slips” for their students, and the paper is full of happy stories of high achievers.
In order to make sense of the results, here is a short primer for those not used to the British system. Before entering Christ School, the boarding secondary school that is part of our WHM team ministry, children study in primary school for seven years. At the end of P7 they take the PLE, Primary Leaving Exam, in four subjects: English, Math, Social Studies, and Science. The best score per subject is 1, the worst is 9 (failure). So PLE scores range from 4 to 36, with anything up to 32 (4x8) considered passing. Most of our CSB students have entered with PLE’s in the mid twenties, though the performance has improved steadily year by year, and we’re starting to get a good number in the teens. There are schools in Kampala, many, which take only students with 4’s and 5’s. So by the time our kids start at CSB, they have usually endured five or six years of marginal early childhood nutrition, lived in a home without even a single book to read, and then sat through seven years of primary school in institutions that are nearly the worst in the country. Just to put it in perspective.
In secondary school there are four “Ordinary Level” (O level) years, S1 to S4, after which students sit for the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE), which is commonly referred to as O levels. Students study on average 10 classes, but the best 8 are the ones included in the score. The UCE functions somewhat like a high school diploma in the US system, but academically more on the order of 11th grade. Successful students can then study for two more years, “Advanced Level” (A level), S5 and S6, usually narrowing to three or sometimes four subjects. Then they sit for A levels, which determine admission to University. Completion of A levels is like finishing a year of community college in the US. University Bachelor degrees are completed in 3 years.
So back to the O level scores. Again 1 is the best in any subject, and 9 is a failure. So the best “best of 8” score would be 8, which some of the thrilled teenagers featured in the stories in the paper have received. These are tough exams that cover their entire four years of classwork in numerous subjects. Besides the “best of 8” aggregate, there is a grading something like A, B, C, D called Division 1, 2, 3, and 4. The cut-offs are a bit complex. Division 1 means the student a) passed five subjects with “credit” (6 or above) including English and b) passed at least one course each in math, humanities, and science and c) the total score in the best six subjects adds up to 23 or less. It is not a straight number cut-off, so that students who take more difficult work are not necessarily penalized, and those with a broadly good performance are rewarded. Division 2, 3, and 4 allow for mere passes (7 or 8, not only credit 6 and above) in required subjects and progressively more lax totals.
NOW . . . . If anyone is still with me . . . .the district-level results can be compared by percentage of students passing in Division 1, or by percentage passing at all. But even that can be misleading, if in a rural poor area most children are unable to attend secondary school, then the passing rate of the few who do make it that far could look excellent because the scores of an elite few are not diluted by the average kid. So take it all with a grain of salt.
79 districts were listed in this morning’s paper. The top district has a 16.7% Division 1 rate, the average was 8.4% in Division 1 among the nearly 200 thousand kids who took the exam. Bundibugyo had only 9 of 481 students in Division 1. All were boys. We don’t know what schools they attended, but hope that most are from CSB! That is an overall Division 1 rate of 1.9%; and that means our district ranks 67 out of 79 (12 were worse). If the districts are ranked by failure rate, ours was 11.4%, which was third from the bottom (2 were worse).
Which means that we still have work to do here, and lots of it.